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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

No…not the Holidays…The NAAP (formerly IAN) adoption conference is coming up the weekend of September 9th and 10th! For me, it’s a mini-vacation where I get to hang out, meet and learn from people just like me: adoptees. You may also get to meet first/biological parents, therapists, social workers and adoptive parents too. Some of the attendees wear more than one hat in the adoption-land too! Gathering in-person is a huge blessing considering the year-and-a-half we’ve all had, but additionally, a virtual option is available this time around, so no one has to miss out!

For this event, colleague-friends, Lynn Grubb, Laureen Pittman, Marcie Keithly will be presenting on a panel as writers. We will be discussing and taking questions about our paths as storytellers/authors and how it has helped our lives, our writing processes, tips, concerns and ideas for getting started. There are many speakers and workshop events to choose from both days. The hard part is deciding which “class” to attend because they are all so good! You can’t go wrong!

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there, meeting new folks, reconnecting with familiar friends and having the adventure of putting online names and faces to real-time!

Review of the Anthology: Parenting as Adoptees by Adam Chau & Kevin Ost-Vollmers

This is an adoptee-centered anthology I recently discovered. It is from 2012 and the contributing authors are diverse and make important observations and points about life as an adopted adult who becomes a parent. I was curious about this book because I definitely believe that being an adopted person has influenced in some ways how I have parented and provided for my children, and it has made me extra watchful regarding their child development. 

The second entry by Bert Ballard, Ph.D. references the concept of intergenerationality, also known as multi-generationality. This concept is about patterns of behaviors and thinking being passed on throughout various generations of a family and how these patterns are disrupted when adoption occurs. It can be a good or a bad thing, but it is part of the loss adoptees experience regardless. This sense of loss plays into how we parent our own kids because we want to shield our children from having these gaps and losses. We often work extra hard to compensate to make up for what we did not have as children. In my case, I have worked above and beyond to make sure my kids and grandkids have an abundance of family heritage information plus photos and videos. 

Other ideas such as genetic ping (also referred to as genetic echo) and adultism (when opinions and decisions are made in favor of the adults’ interests and needs more than the children’s) are addressed in this book. For some adopted people, having biological children is healing and therapeutic because we now finally have a biological family member with whom we can mirror. For others it heightens our need to search for genetic family since the birth of our babies creates more questions. Until recently it has not been common knowledge that learning disabilities can be inherited as well. Trans racial/national/cultural adoptees also are hit hard with losses, confusion and bewilderment as to how to now explain their experiences to their own children.

This is a great resource for anyone seeking to understand the thinking or mindsets of adopted adults, and the twists and turns when navigating the dynamics of blended families through adoption. It is also a reminder that being an adopted person never stops, even when we grow up and that our children can become adoptees by default with losses and unanswered questions during their lives.

Wonder Boy: Documentary Review

In 2019, 30-year-old fashion director/designer, Olivier Rousteing created a documentary about how he searched for his biological parents and the feelings and thoughts he processed along the way. The film  is set mostly in France with English subtitles. Rousteing, (Ethiopian and Somalian by heritage) was adopted as a baby and raised in a white French family, which makes him a transracial/ transnational adoptee. 

This colorful, artsy film takes the viewer along on Olivier’s journey, literally and emotionally as he travels for business and in search of his origins. He shares his struggle of navigating the French adoption system (“red tape”) with various intermediaries who are required to read through his adoption files with him and forward personal letters prior to advancing in the search. While he understands it’s not the social workers as people who are being difficult, and instead it’s the system, his frustration is clear. His emotions run high as he discovers morsels of information which lead to more questions as time goes on. 

Olivier Rousteing brings up an excellent point and message for anyone conducting a search like his: This will impact the rest of your life, even if you never meet in person. The search stage is an unforgettable experience filled with unexpected sentiments and discoveries. In Olivier’s case, he wants to see people who look like he does, and he wants to know why the adoption happened in the first place. He wants to find out whether or not his birth story is one of sadness or love. As he forages ahead he describes his mindset as being in a “prison of anger”, because he has been very hard on himself throughout his young life to excel in his learning and profession. He hates what happened in his start in life yet grateful to be alive. 

Two quotes from the film, Wonder Boy, jumped out at me:

“When your parents don’t want you, you wonder what you’re doing here.” and

“As long as I don’t know who I am, I can’t love myself.”

Pow! He nailed it!

Watch this film. If you love travel and French culture you will appreciate it. If you are enchanted by the fashion industry it’s a must-see. (J-Lo makes a brief appearance as a model.) If you are considering or going through a birth/bio parent search, this movie will validate your feelings and remind you that as adoptees, we are not alone, no matter where in the world we’ve been brought up.

From Gypsy to Jersey: An Adoption Journey Book Review

Yael Adler has written an honest yet uplifting story about her experience as a Romanian adoptee, brought to the US and raised by loving parents. This book is further proof that even adopted people from wonderful upbringings and advantages still have curiosity and a longing to explore their original heritage and culture. Yael’s birth and subsequent adoption occurred during the time of the Romanian Revolution and the general fall of many communist-block countries in Europe. Millions of local citizens at the time lived in chaos and were desperate for food, health care, sanitation and safety, and as a result, Yael’s biological mother was unable to care for her. 

This book is rich in history and culture of a society most people hear or read very little about: Roma Gypsies. The author addresses typical stereotypes and discrimination experienced by these caring and family-centered individuals. Adler takes the reader on her journey (both literally and figuratively) of reunion overseas with her natural family members almost 30 years after the occurrence. The book includes fascinating photos, (mostly color in the Kindle version), along with a play-by-play of how she and a translator /guide/“angel” of sorts navigated her reunion with a large, welcoming family including a sister, nieces, nephews and an aunt. This reading experience is like going on a foreign exchange trip where you are able to appreciate the food, buildings, challenges of managing in a country where you don’t speak the language as well as becoming familiar with all the people involved in the story. 

The writing style is friendly and casual, as if you were sitting together at the kitchen table having a great discussion. The book reads fast too, so if you’re short on time but want to read something about how adoptees, birth mothers and even adoptive parents feel, this is an opportunity. 

Review of Dear Stephen Michael’s Mother

This is an outstanding new adoptee memoir by Kevin Barhydt. Barhydt bares his soul artfully and passionately as he unfolds two tales: the story of his coming of age in the 1960s-70s and early 80s and the story of his search for his elusive biological mother.

Substance addiction is a common concern for many in the adoptee community, and Barhydt spares few details as he shares his painful experiences which began as an innocent pre-teen lad and continued through his time in the military and beyond. Every social, romantic, work-related and familial relationship is tested to the brink as he descends further into the upside-down world of alcohol, drugs and multiple forms of abuse. There are painful parts to read, but this is Kevin’s truth and as most adopted people understand, our truths matter; ALL truths matter, including the difficult ones. 

The part about his search and reunion experience was very similar to my own in that it took place during a similar era, and he found siblings in a totally different time zone in what felt like a magical and “exotic” section of the continent unlike any other part of the US. It also happened pre-social media. There is one other similarity, but it would be a spoiler to disclose it in this review.

A few items that “jumped’ out at me while reading:  

  1. “…My mother and father had searched for a child, paid a fee, signed paperwork, and claimed me as their own. Now I did the same.” This is from the section when the author comes to the conclusion that he needs to put his faith in the services of a paid search angel. Most adoptees were “paid for” because of private lawyer fees, agency fees or even general courthouse fees. Typically our adoptive parents assumed these costs. Even if it is / was a norm of the day, the idea can make some adopted people feel like merchandise.
  2. It’s probably a coincidence but the fact that Barhydt was at one point deployed to a naval base in Rota, Spain struck me. (I’m a Spanish education major!) The adjective, “Roto / Rota” (feminine version) in Spanish means “broken”. How odd and poignant that as the author was hitting a “broken” point of his life he was sent to a town by the same name. 

This memoir is an easy-not-easy read. Not easy due to some of the sensitive subject matter; easy in that Barhydt writes with an engaging and clear, straight-forward style. I finished all 267 pages of this book in basically two days. (That includes the prologue to the acknowledgments.) I could not put it down, and I felt involved with every character in the story. This is a great addition to every adoption constellation member’s book collection and an especially brilliant insight for counselors / therapists and anyone with addiction experiences. 

Book Review: Watch Over Me (2020)

Watch Over Me is a new young adult novel by Nina Lacour. The main character is Mila, a recent high school graduate who has aged out of the California foster care system. She accepts a unique “teaching” position on a secluded farm where everyone lives off the land and works together to care for the crops, the home and the assorted younger children who live there. Mia struggles with the traumatic loss of her biological family, her so-called step-father’s eccentric and toxic behavior and her fear of rejection by the farm family and how she desperately wants to fit in, even as a 19-year-old.

Mila has the ability to see ghosts. The spirits both fascinate her and frighten her because she doesn’t understand them and why they appear to her but not always to others.

This story, while marketed mainly for people between 15-25, could be appealing to a wide range of readers including those who like family stories with a twist, readers interested in adoption and foster care, and those who enjoy an element of psychological and paranormal thrill. The chapters are written partially in present day and with bits of flash backs to help build the suspense surrounding Mila’s past. Watch Over Me reads fast, (I finished it in 48 hours.) So this is a great choice for someone short on time who still wants story telling with substance and quality.

Hillbilly Elegy, The Movie

I recently watched the movie, Hillbilly Elegy and loved all  one hour and 56 minutes of the experience. 

Director Ron Howard and the superbly assembled cast nailed it in the sense that the acting was spot on and the message in the story was clear. Book version author, J. D. Vance, (who is also an adoptee-lite raised by his mother’s people), tells the family saga of his Appalachian ancestors and their struggles with raising a family, finding employment and managing sobriety while facing economic, geographical and educational limitations. Both the book and film could have been echoing the story of my ancestors as well. 

Many people of Appalachian descent represent a marginalized community seldom thought about. While so often they are perceived as racist red necks and 2nd Amendment supporters, there is another side. It’s a lifestyle ensnared in a web of ignorance, apathy and helplessness. Finding freedom and enlightenment from these constraints is not easy. These folks do not always make the best choices for coping with their angst due to misinformation and fear.

A big part of the Appalachian culture is putting family first, even when you disagree. You end up defending parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and even the memories of the dearly departed because family sticks together. While having family ties and respect for your elders are normally good things, Appalachian alliances can become smothering, preventing the younger generations from pursuing their own interests and educations because if they leave the fold, there will be a gap in the cohesiveness of kinfolk. Not only are they more prone to having addictions to substances; they are also addicted to certain ways of life. This creates a sort of “Hillbilly guilt” mechanism for those who wish to venture onward, thus spiraling future adults into another wave of under-educated people who hopelessly believe that sticking with the family community is their only life purpose. 

This guilt or psychological oppression becomes a messy cycle creating little opportunity to expand one’s learning and social connections because they cannot break free. My grandparents’ generation fought their way out of this lattice of seclusion, dysfunction and narrow understandings when the second World War beckoned men to battle in distant areas around the globe and women to assume new jobs outside the home left open by the men who were away. My folks gradually migrated from the hollers of rural Kentucky and eastern Ohio to Cincinnati where there were jobs in industry, retail and entrepreneurship. As a result, my adoptive mother grew up cultured and well-educated. My adoptive dad was able to come of age with improved schooling and among people who valued learning in spite of still being a “poor kid”. My birth father left Kentucky after the navy to find steady, respectable factory employment. My birth mother was brought to this area by her dad after WW II to find a more favorable living and “networking” environment because she had health problems. In some cases, on both sides of my family, even (great) grandparents plus aunts and uncles traversed to the “big city”, which kept the families mostly together.

As a kid in the 1970s, we often piled in the station wagon to take long weekend pilgrimages back to where the old folks were from. Even my modernized and “worldly” parents would never dream of breaking away 100% from their heritage. We paid our respects at the quaint country cemeteries, had picnics and BBQs with the extended cousins who remained on or near original properties, perused old photo albums and listened to the stories of long ago. I treasure the family lore from all sides. I have even taken my kids back to some of those often-visited, beloved “homelands” where I have loving memories of eating my cousin Lois’s mandarin orange and marshmallow Jello salad with fried chicken and green beans, Cousin Elizabeth’s ham and mashed potatoes plus the fresh tomatoes from Bob’s garden, oh, and my other cousin Mildred’s caramels for dessert, (which I still make at Christmas, but they are never as good as hers were).

My modern-day family members support issues involving pro labor and family values, but do not equate these ideals with only accepting one religion or only one societal group as being superior. We cherish the parts of our ancestry about food recipes, family history stories and celebrating members past and present as individuals who loved their country, wanted their kids and grandkids to have more and better than what they had, worked long hours and earned honest pay. While some ancestors from 100+ years ago might regard us contemporary “young’uns” as “hippies”, I’m okay with that. That was then, and here we are now. 

We still love our country, but we don’t want / wear MAGA hats.

We enjoy our fried chicken, but might believe that vegan enchiladas are better.

We embrace some country music but not all because many forms of music have meaningful messages.

We have friends from diverse walks of life because it’s cool and it’s the only way to keep learning.

We respect our parents and other older relatives, but we don’t have to agree with everything they say.

We do not have to agree with every law or policy, but we defend everyone’s right to be their own person and have separate ideas.

We can still be caregivers when needed, but work to find a healthy balance between a toxic, soul-sucking relationship and finding our own paths.

We are not ashamed of from whom and where we come, but we can be ourselves today without fear of reprocussions from one another.

We vote with our hearts and not with dogma.

We are filled with gratitude for the gifts of knowledge, care and other “life-hacks” from the past, yet we feel empowered to think for ourselves, blend what is blendable between old and new ways and share what we can with future generations.

Hillbilly Elegy is not an easy book or movie to get through in many spots. The Vance family’s struggles are not sugar-coated in a Hallmark Channel ending, however, the book and film do an excellent job at good old fashioned story-telling, character building (especially the grandma) and promoting empathy and understanding for Appalachian citizens trying to function in an ever-changing society.

A review of: Un M Othered

Actress, author and recent PhD , Liz DeBetta has a beautifully choreographed, written and expressed one-woman play regarding her experiences as an adoptee. The show is cleverly titled, Un M Othered.  

I can’t begin to list every poignant line in her play because there are so many, but she has eloquently and accurately expressed many of the ways we adopted people view and interpret the world in which we live and cope. 

Her acting and writing are elevations of the adoptee voice perspective. Her thoughts and emotions reflect what many of us have felt either currently or at some point in our lives. 

I hope every adoptee can experience this play. It is available on Vimeo, and given that going out to see a play is a rate and wonderful thing right now, this show is a real treat in many ways. Some of my favorite lines are as follows:

Books gave me permission to escape the confusing reality of my life…” (So incredibly true!)

Loneliness keeps me from me...”

She refers to a life of “…accepting crumbs...” when it comes to relationships and personal info about her origins, and here’s a real zinger of a line:

I just want to find the center point of myself again; see me clearly; clearly see me…and it’s hard to find the center point of yourself when you spend so much of your life confused and conforming to ways of being that are expected of you.”

As I said, I could go on and on citing amazing, heartfelt, raw yet eloquent excerpts from this evocative stage production.

This is the link to Liz Debetta’s extraordinary work:


standing ovation GIF

Review of Synchronicity & Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents

Have you ever searched for and found a missing biological relative? Have you discovered quirky, unique or crazy similarities or common patterns in your lives, even though you’ve lived apart?

Although this book was written back in 1992 by the late LaVonne Harper Stiffler, the information is quite timely and suitable for today’s adoptee or bio parent. The author begins the book with a basic introduction in adoption psychology, which may or may not have anything to do with synchronicity or meaningful coincidences but is spot-on. It sets the stage for later chapters and the information provided is useful for any adoptee or 1st parent who is considering the search and reunion experience. She describes the need to search as a “…the human homing mechanism…”.

Stiffler also frequestly references the “mobius connection paradygm strip:

Mobius-Strip.jpg | Copley Raffas a way to explain the interconnectedness of paths between the adoptee’s life and that of the biological family’s regarding amazing coincidences and other phenomonae which exists but cannot be scientifically explained (yet). She cites various heavy-hitting adoption “all-stars” such as Betty Jean Lifton and Nancy Verrier along with reputable phsychological theorists from history: Jung, Freud, and Kammerer, plus many others.

This book also contains a plethora of adoption-related coincidence stories collected by the writer, which are amazing and fun to read. Unexplained yet existing synchronicities can happen with dreams, career choices, names, common birth, marriage and death dates among families, even ESP-type happenings and “gut” feelings.


Book Review of Togethermore Rejection and Reunion, by Roderick Edwards

Togethermore Rejection and Reunion is simple, concise, and a very quick read. It is the story of an Indiana man who interestingly describes what many adoptees label “the Fog”  in a unique way: “a state of virtual amnesia for fifty years”. The reader does not learn much about how Roderick grew up regarding his adoptee experience. (Perhaps because the author does not have many positive things to say.) Instead, the story takes you right into the moment when he receives his OBC in the mail a year after he and his wife decided to take DNA tests. He builds a family tree based on the sketchy information he does have and finds a nephew who puts him in touch with a sibling who, in turn, connects him with his other siblings.

The rest of the book tells in detail about Roderick’s critical and life-changing first year in reunion as he meets an elderly aunt, sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. (AKA “niblings“) Roderick’s emotions soar through the understandable spectrum of instant elation, never wanting to separate from the family again to, as the author puts it, “…trying on a suit that doesn’t fit”. Many times he feels torn between two unique worlds: his constructed, traditional family via marriage and his very large and diverse biological relatives. Roderick does a good job of explaining how prior to searching, some adopted people have perhaps constructed a biological or birth family of a certain image, which does not pan out in reality. This can be a good or a bad coping strategy, but it is important for those searching for important people to be aware that reality and imagination do not tend to match perfectly.

Togethermore reads fast and is relatable and understandable. It could be a great resource for adoptees, especially for those who are beginning to gather facts and search tools.  As more states open up records, there will hopefully be more people searching for their first past, and this little book might be very handy because it is realistic, contemporary and easy to absorb in one sitting.